As the Philadelphia Phillies continue trying to recapture lost glory, fans dream of adding a local product superstar to the team’s future lineup.
It has now been five long, losing seasons for fans of the Philadelphia Phillies. Those years came on suddenly, after nearly a decade of exciting, winning baseball.
In 2012, the Phils fell to the .500 mark after winning a franchise record 102 games the previous year. Since then, the team has never finished with more than 73 wins, or closer than 23 games to first place.
In late April of that 2012 season, the Los Angeles Angels called up a prized prospect from their minor league system. Mike Trout had been the Halos’ first-round pick at 25th overall in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft.
Trout was drafted out of Millville Senior High School in Millville, New Jersey. The town of about 30,000 people sits in Cumberland County of South Jersey. It lies just about 30 miles from Sea Isle City at the Jersey shore.
As the Phillies’ star faded, Trout’s quickly rose. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award in that 2012 season. Trout hit for a .326/.399/.564 slash line with 30 homers. He led the league with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored.
It was the first of what would be six consecutive MVP caliber All-Star seasons from Trout. He was the AL’s Most Valuable Player winner in both 2014 and then again last season. In his other three full seasons, Trout finished as runner-up for the award. He has five consecutive Silver Slugger awards.
In short, Trout has become widely acknowledged as the best all-around player in Major League Baseball.
LOCAL KID REMAINS A PHILLY SPORTS FAN
As Trout emerged to superstardom, Phillies fans became aware of his having been born in the area. Millville is Philly sports country, and Trout grew up as a fan of all the local teams.
Trout remains a vocal fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, and has become good friends with the Birds’ quarterback, Carson Wentz. He was tailgating as a 17-year-old on that glorious night in October of 2008 when his boyhood idols won the World Series.
So it’s only natural that Trout has become one of the few opposition players who is beloved by Phillies fans. Those fans quickly began to envision a day when Trout might patrol the outfield in South Philly.
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The Phillies are now out on a 10-game road trip that has begun in Anaheim to visit Trout and the Angels. Fans who stayed up late to watch Wednesday night’s contest saw him crush a home run to help the Angels to a 7-0 win over the Phillies.
That home run was Trout’s 20th of the year, despite the fact that he missed more than a month with the first DL stint of his career.
Trout will turn 27 years old early next week. He is signed to a contract with the Angels that takes him through the 2020 season.
When signed a couple of years ago, that contract broke the hearts of some Phillies fans who were counting down the days to his eligibility for free agency. But no one could blame him. At $144.5 million over five years, it gave Trout and his family financial security for life.
FOR PHILLIES FANS, THE WAIT IS ON
So now the wait is on, at least where Phillies fans are concerned. While Trout cannot become an outright free agent for another three years, he could come back east before that point.
If the Angels cannot get him to agree to a further extension, they may be forced to try to deal him by the 2019 trade deadline. Where will the Phillies be at that point in their own rebuilding process?
It is hoped that two years from now, the Phillies will have fully turned the page from the current group of placeholder position players. A number of their highly-rated prospects, such as shortstop J.P. Crawford, second baseman Scott Kingery and first baseman Rhys Hoskins should have a full season or two under their belts by that point.
The Phillies should also have plenty of money to spend on Trout’s next contract. That deal is likely to be for more than $400 million, and will take him through most, if not all, of his 30s.
That is the plan, from a Phillies fan’s perspective. If I’ve seen it written and heard it discussed once over the last few years, I’ve heard it a hundred times.
HOMECOMING IS A REALISTIC POSSIBILITY
Prior to the game on Wednesday, Trout was asked point-blank by broadcaster Gregg Murphy about the possibility of returning home to play one day. “Obviously I have a couple more years on my contract,” Trout was quoted in a piece on the Murphy interview by Jordan Hall for CSN Philly.
"“Growing up as a kid, you always want to play for your team, but I love it in Anaheim. I can’t say enough about this organization, I was brought up here and we’ll see what happens.”"
Some fans speculate about the Phillies obtaining him within the next year or two, but that is highly unlikely. Trout is wildly popular with the Angels fan base, and is easily their biggest drawing card. He is not going anywhere for at least two years.
But when he does go on the market, the Phillies should be ready to pounce. If he remains as good as he has been, and they somehow lose him to some other team due to a higher offer, I don’t even want to imagine the uproar.
Back in May of 2014, Trout stepped to the plate in Philadelphia as a member of the Angels for the first time. He was greeted by a loud roar and standing ovation as he stepped into the box to face Cliff Lee. The appearance only served to feed Phillies fans’ Trout frenzy, which has continued to grow.
If I’m a betting man, which I’m not, I’d put it at better than 50/50 that Trout is patrolling the outfield at Citizens Bank Park in front of those Phillies fans during the 2020s. Until it happens, those fans will continue to speculate wildly, and to dream of the return of a hometown hero.